Kingdom of the Dead: Tiruray Creation Myth

The Tiruray

There are coastal, river, and mountain Tiruray clans, each of which has variations in dialect. In fact, Tiruray is a combination of tiru (“place of origin, birth, or residence”) and ray (from daya, meaning “upper part of a stream or river”). Their language, another distinct ethnolinguistic group, is structurally related to those of the Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian family but is unintelligible to their immediate neighbors. The majority of Tiruray habitations are in Upi, South Upi, Dinaig, and Ampatuan in Maguindanao (ARMM), plus scattered populations in Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato (SOCCSKSARGEN Region).

Indigenous beliefs and practice, customs and rituals are animistic. Tirurays who have close contact with the Muslim Maguindanao were influenced to believe the Islam faith. The Roman Catholics and the Episcopalian church have been working among them for a long time and many ‘modernized’ Tirurays have been converted. However, many still keep the old beliefs and practice indigenous rituals.

The Tiruray People of Mindanao

The influence of Christianity and Islam can be seen in some of their creation myths. The Tiruray ‘Creation of the Earth’ tale is no exception as it includes how woman was created from the rib of the first man. According to the second chapter of Genesis, Eve was created by God (Yahweh) by taking her from the rib of Adam, to be Adam’s companion. Some people tend to discount Philippine myths that incorporate Christian motifs, but I personally find them fascinating. As the American anthropologist, H. Otley Beyer  pointed out regarding the flood myths of the Philippines, “I see no good reason why the story should not also be [seen as] a native development in spite of its similarity to the Hebrew myth.”  It is likely, of course, that this aspect was taken from a biblical story brought by Christians several generations past; but it was incorporated into something uniquely native.


The Creation of the Earth


Countless ages ago, there was no land throughout the world. There were only the sky and the sea.

In those days of long, long ago, there already lived in heaven a being whom the Tirurays knew as Sualla (or Tullus-God). Sualla had a sister who lived in Bonggo, the kingdom of the dead. Both Sualla and his sister were very powerful, and were able change any object to other forms.

One day Sualla went to the palace of the rising sun to visit eight khnenentaos (statue) which stood against the walls of heaven. The eight khnenentaos were made from the pith of a very hard wood, and had been there since the beginning of time. When he arrived, Sualla touched one of the central figures. The khnenentao he touched was given life and thus the first man was created.

Sualla left the man he created. But the first man was always sad and lonely, he took one of the man’s ribs and made a woman of it. Sualla married the man and the woman. Not long afterwards a very good looking son was born. But, alas, the boy would never stop crying. His cry was so loud that it was heard throughout the universe. He became sick, and the parents were much worried. The woman sent her husband to Sualla to ask medicine for their sick child.

When Sualla heard that his omat (man-creation) was in distress, he was sorry and said that he would never again directly increase his human creations. He gave the necessary medicine for the sick boy.

Before sending the man away, however, Sualla said, “You will meet a man on your way. Do not let him see or take hold of the medicine I have given you.”

On his way the omat met the king of the demons who had been sent by Sinonggol, the sister of Sualla.

“What do you have in your hand there?” the king of the demons asked.

The omat did not answer, so the king of the demons grabbed the medicine and deftly changed it. As soon as Sualla’s creation had back what he thought was his medicine, he hurried on.

When he arrived home, the omat gave the medicine to his boy. The boy died immediately.

The wife again sent her husband to their creator, this time to ask for a burial place for their dead son.

“What did you do to the medicine I gave you?” Sualla asked.

“The king of the demons took it away from me,” replied the man.

“My sister has been envious of my works again,” muttered Sualla, and he felt sorry. Then he called for his four brothers from the four corners of the world. Their names were Mentail, Micael, Mintlafis, and Osman Ali. When his brothers arrived he ordered them to buy soil from Navi (Prophet) Mohammad so that Mentalalan, the boy who was dead, might be buried.

The four brothers of Sualla proceeded to Navi Mohammad’s place, which was and is, also, in heaven. When they arrived, and were asked their mission, they replied that they had been sent by Sualla to buy some soil. They were immediately given freely what they asked for.

It was a fine morning when they reached the place of Sualla. After deciding the location, Sualla went to Colina, the center of the world, and planted the soil. This soil has now grown and spread throughout the world. After planting the soil, Mentalalan was buried.

From different parts of the body of Mentalalan various food crops grew. The first corn grew from the teeth of Mentalalan. From the navel the first rice sprouted. The hands grew as the first banana trees. God is really a loving and wonderful Being.

Sualla’s sister, Sinonggol, was so jealous of her brother’s work that she threw down her comb, which became the first pig—to eat and destroy the first bananas and other crops. She also spit out her buyo (betel nut chew) and threw it away. The buyo became the first rats, and thus to this day the rats eat and destroy our rice and corn.

It is said that had it not been for the jealousy of Sualla’s sister we should all be living now as immortals. We should never be hungry because the crops would not die away. The bananas, the rice, the corn—all things that Sualla made for us— were changed or modified by Sinonggol.

But we must also take into consideration that Sinonggol did all these things because she loves us. Persons, beasts, insects, plants, and all other things have to die, because she wants them in her abode at Bonggo, the kingdom of the dead.

Tales of Long Ago in the Philippines, Maximo Ramos, Phoenix Publishing 1991
Datu Gumbay Piang, Philippine Magazine, v. 27, no. 12 (May 1931), 734
Tiruray in the Philippines
National Commission For The Culture And The Arts,


NEGRITO Origin Myth: Creation of the World

IGOROT Origin Myths: The Creation

MINDANAO Origin Myths: The Earth and its Inhabitants

IFUGAO Origin Myth: The First Man & Woman 

BICOL Origin Myth: The Creation of the World

The TAGALOGS Origin Myths: Bathala the Creator


2018 © The Aswang Project

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Jordan is a Canadian documentary director/ producer. He made the 2011 feature length documentary THE ASWANG PHENOMENON - an exploration of the aswang myth and its effects on Philippine society. Currently he is in post production for "The Aswang Project" web-series, which will feature 6 myths from the Philippines. The TIKBALANG, KAPRE and BAKUNAWA episodes are available to watch on YouTube.